May 16, 2014

Too many choices

Too many choices. Credit: Kaytee Riek / Flickr Creative Commons


Here's an experience we've all had: you’re staring at a menu of Moby Dick-sized proportions. And when the waiter comes to take your order, you feel overwhelmed – what to choose? what to choose? You throw out the name of the first thing you see, and then you second guess your decision for the rest of the meal.

It's the paradox of choice. We crave it. And we resent it.

Sheena Iyengar, a Columbia University professor and the author of The Art of Choosing, spends her days researching the science of choice. And she points out that on one hand, all the options we have are empowering. “We can choose our hair color, the shape of our nose, what gender we’re going to be, [and] not just what career we’re going to have, but what set of careers.”

But there's no blueprint for making many of these decisions. “Do we actually know how to decide the genetic makeup of our children?" Iyengar asks. "Do we know how to make decisions about, say, the quantity or quality of life decisions that so many of us have to make for ourselves or our loved ones?”

The first step in coping with choice overload, she says, is to prioritize your personal choices. “It’s really important to think about what’s most important to you and be willing to let go of the choices that are not as important."

Most important, according to Iyengar, “In today’s world, you can’t afford not to be choosy about choosing.”

Body and Mind, Culture, Sheena Iyengar, choosing, choices

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